CAA: ‘Soft story’ retrofits laudable, but address costs before mandating

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The city of Los Angeles may soon begin a study to inventory “soft story” apartment buildings — ones in which the ground floor may not be strong enough to support upper levels during a major earthquake, the L.A Times reported Wednesday, Aug. 21.

Locating and counting these vulnerable structures could lay the groundwork for an eventual proposal to require seismic retrofitting on soft story buildings in L.A.

The push comes as the 20-year anniversary of the Northridge quake approaches. The 1994 temblor destroyed or seriously damaged roughly 200 soft story buildings, according to the Times story.

If Los Angeles ultimately requires property owners to strengthen the bottom floors of wood-frame apartment buildings, it would follow in the footsteps of San Francisco.

This year, San Francisco mandated this type of seismic retrofitting and is allowing landlords to pass along the construction cost to tenants.

The L.A. Times interviewed Beverly Kenworthy, executive director of CAA’s Los Angeles Division, who said the association supports strengthening buildings to better withstand earthquakes and protect residents.

Kenworthy cautioned, however, that mandating retrofitting could cause financial hardships for owners, particularly couples without access to much capital.

“We don’t think it’s a bad idea,” she told The Times. “There just needs to be a type of funding mechanism … to help property owners pay for it.”

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